The problem with proof

Complementary and ‘alternative’ therapies are often criticised for not being ‘evidence-based’, while a lot of evidence-based medicine is not as clearly proven as they would have you believe. 

I cringe at the woolly new-age claims made by some ‘healers’ but I’m no less dubious of those who are satisfied that by stating the conclusion of a single clinical trial (or even a Cochrane review) they are somehow ‘right’. Especially when they try to apply that knowledge to the care of individuals.

The limitations of the double-blind, placebo controlled, crossover trial are many, and well documented. Health care is, and always will be, an individual pursuit – guided, if you’re lucky and if you need it, by a curious, open-minded, insightful and intuitive helper who understands what they know, what they don’t know, and how much there is still to learn. I try to be that person, and it’s a demanding and sometimes impossible task. It’s natural to want to ‘know’ and frustrating to be stuck for answers, but it is better to acknowledge this limitation than to pretend an omnipotence that cannot deliver.

The desire to generate proof and certainty is, in my view, a gargantuan stumbling block for modern medicine (and some complementary therapies, too). It allows us to chase the rainbow of ‘knowledge’ instead of grappling with the chaotic and idiosyncratic challenges of individual health. Fewer and fewer funded research projects lead directly to clinical benefits for sick people. And yet we are facing unprecedented demands on NHS resources.

If you want to read more about the flaws in evidence based medicine, the following article is a great place to start.

Or you could pick up a copy of Rupert Sheldrake’s book, The Science Delusion. It’s not exactly a holiday read, but it could save your life – or at least your face.

As ever, I would remind you that your health is your responsibility and no one will ever take it as seriously as you do.